Monday, April 12, 2010

Spring Break 2010

Every Spring, I try to take a mini vacation with my friends or family. I know that I've been out of college for almost 5 years, but this is one tradition that is needed both for my personal sanity and to fully disconnect from work.

After a very stressful year at work, I knew that Spring couldn't come soon enough. I was going with two of my besties. Like me, Lizzy was looking forward to a much needed break from domestic and corporate life. Liz's past year included some big life changes: a move to Wisconsin, an engagement and a new job. That is a lot of good stress but it can extremely shake up the normalcies of your everyday life. And Bri...well, Bri is a teacher, which basically means she's looking for to Spring Break from day 1 of each school year.

As you may recall from my post last March, Bri & I took a road trip down to Houston to visit my friend and roomie, Denise. We drove for 16 hours each way to have 3 days of vacation. And it was tiring! We decided this year that a road trip would still be the most economical solution, but we were set on finding something closer in distance. During a conference gchat with Lizzy, Bri & me, we decided to take our travels "international" and journeying to Toronto. It was only 9 hours away and was close enough to take a side trip to Niagara Falls--a wonder of the world none of us had seen!

In preparation for our trip, we all put together a food list to take in the car on the way too and from. Bri was packing a cooler wish some drinks, pretzels & grapes.

On my menu? Homemade granola bars. I made a chewy dried fruit & nut bar as well as a crispy almond chocolate bar. (NOTE: The almond chocolate bars were completely and horrifically consumed at the paws of Lizzy...who couldn't keep her grubby hands off of them!) The recipe is out of Cook Yourself Thin & was so easy to make, I probably will never waste money on pre-packed bars again. I also made the blueberry and banana muffins out of the cookbook, too. It was nice to have some easy go-to food for starting our day or snacking. I think that saved us a lot of money, too, as Toronto was more expensive thatn I had imagined.

We hit the road early on Saturday, March 27th and crossed over from Michigan into Canada in the early afternoon. I have never been in Canada before, and I wasn't sure what it was going to be like. Crossing over that bridge was the most amazingly beautiful site. The bridge is quite high, and due to the weather, there were floating ice chunks in the lake. The water was shimmering in the sunny afternoon and the trees were already turning green. Yeah, the beautiful scenery soon was dull when we got about 5 miles past the border. It looked like Oklahoma. It was all tan and flat with no civilization other than farms!

The drive into Toronto on the QEW was a nice entry into the city. We got a pre-sighting of: CN Tower, harbor, China Town and Dundas/Yonge. When we finally arrived at the hotel that evening, we grabbed a late dinner in time for Earth Hour. Toronto had so many things happening, including a free concert in Yonge|Dundas Square. Yonge is like NYC's Time Square. What I loved most about Toronto was the multicultural atmosphere. It's the most diverse city I've been to. The city has a lot of shopping, too, which surprised me. While it wasn't in my budget to ape-wild on my love of everything retail, it was nice to see some cool shops/boutiques. Looking for nightlife on Saturday, we took a cab to Queen West to Rivoli and had some wine/beer with some locals. Not exactly "bumpin'" but it was entertaining.

Sunday, we took a guided bus tour around Toronto and got to see some amazing sites. The most breathtaking....Casa Loma. Back in the time it was being built, it took an estimated $3mil, which is about $300mil today. They ended up losing the castle due to money problems...duh...and the city of Toronto absorbed the property as a local real estate investment.

The tour allowed us to see some sites in Toronto and helped us plan what we wanted to do the next day, which was our last there before venturing to Niagara. We saw Parliament, City Hall, CN Tower & the harbor on the tour.

Starting off our final day in Toronto, we went to the harbor because the weather was nice and sunny. The private airport is on a small island close to the harbor. Kind of weird to see a hanger on a small island. I kept thinking it was going to sink into the water. But it didn't. Toronto's Police Dock is in the center of the harbor walk. It is close enough to patrol the lake and be close to the private hanger.

But what happens if the police need help? Don't you worry about that! The police have their own protector...the biggest male swan I have EVER seen!

After the dock, we walked into Lawrence Market and grabbed a quick lunch before taking a walk up to see the MTV building. We also wanted to go out that way because our waiter at lunch said he has seen Cameron Diaz & Justin Timberlake in the area. Yeah, we didn't. But it was still nice to think they might be there.

Other mention-worthy happenings were at China Town and Village Idiot Pub. Amazing, fresh and authentic Chinese food and a wonderful bar with amazing "house" beer. We had our last night in Toronto at the Village Idiot. I would definitely go back!

We left Toronto in the morning on Tuesday and took our second leg of our Spring Break. Niagara Falls or BUST! It was the perfect time of year to go to the falls. There weren't too many tourists and the air was crisp and fresh. It was beautiful and peaceful. I can't believe my parents never took my brother and me for a family weekend.

What we weren't expecting was for Niagara to take less than 2 hours. There really isn't too much to do there unless you want to shop or gamble. We had made arrangements at a hotel in Buffalo since it was only 45 minutes away. Back on the road we were. The cross over back into New York and the U.S. was a welomed site. IT was in the line at the border check that we finally turned our cell phones back on. If you haven't been able to shut off your phone on a vacation and completely disconnect, I sincerely recommend you do. After checking into the hote, we grabbed lunch at Gabriel's Gate and had an amazing burger...if you're in the area, go there! Our Front Des Rep at the hotel recommended it and we were not disappointed.

Note to self, if you are done at Niagara Falls around noon, just drive home. After lunch in Buffalo, we laid around in the hotel taking naps for about 4 hours. L-A-M-E! But we were short on cash & hadn't planned anything to do there. Around 7pm we did venture around Allen Street Neighborhood and grabbed a couple of drinks at a local pub. It was kind of scary. Probably wouldn't go back there.

We left Wednesday morning at 5:45am to drive back to Chicago and got into the city around 2pm. With a wonderfully adventurous trip under our belts. It was time to get ready to go back to reality. We unloaded my car, did some laundry, ate some lunch and went to bed. journey wasn't over. The next night, I flew out to Phoenix for Easter with Katie and baby Oliver. Travel blog to be continued.

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